A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
I went into writing this page having played “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” many times, and I knew that Coltrane’s recording was wonderful and hugely influential. But I had no idea that the tune had once been quite so popular among the jazz greats! Besides the Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver recordings I’ve linked to below, there are many other versions on YouTube, by Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, and others. Listen to several of them and see how each great artist brings something of themselves to it in a profound way. “Individuality” is one of the great aspects of jazz!

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

John Coltrane: Coltrane’s Sound

Sonny Rollins: What’s New

The Horace Silver Quintet: Silver’s Blue

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” is one of those jazz standards that starts out with a Latin rhythm and switches to straight-ahead swing at some point. “Green Dolphin Street” and “Nica’s Dream” are other famous examples of this.) This type of rhythmic transition is fun to play and sets up a nice contrast between sections. (The tune “I’ll Remember April” is often played this way as well.)

Most jazz tunes are written in the “flat” keys like F, Bb and Eb because this puts them in comfortable keys for trumpet and sax players who play transposing instruments. Because of this, it can be a little challenging to improvise on “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” which is in the key of G major (with an F# in the key signature). It’s not that G major is harder than Bb or Eb; it’s just that we’re not as experienced with playing jazz in the key of G. A lot of pianists don’t have “muscle memory” in that key yet.

One way to overcome this is to practice several “G major” tunes at the same time. So in addition to learning “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” practice tunes like “How High The Moon” and “I’ll Remember April” at the same time. Spend 10 minutes with each tune for a total of 30 minutes per day. Do this for a month or so you’ll soon be more comfortable playing melodies, chord voicings, and bass lines in the key of G, as well as soloing. Go slowly and work your way up to speed over the course of the month.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Coltrane’s Sound (album): Wikipedia

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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